RIDING HIGH: Simon Delestre won the Saut d’Hermès showjumping competition in the heart of Paris, the first time a French national has taken the 400,000 euro prize of the Hermès International-sponsored event.
In its ninth edition, the contest anchors the Hermès brand’s ties to the equestrian universe and carries a five-star ranking, the highest level in the international equestrian sport. It also brings horses back into a venue that had been conceived for them — the Grand Palais.
“Hermès Ryan flew over this test in an exceptional manner,” said Delestre, referring to his horse, who carries the same name as the event’s sponsor.
The luxury brand brought horses back to the venue in 2010; the Grand Palais, built for a world’s fair and horse events, hosted equestrian sports from 1901 to 1957.
“The idea was to reintroduce the horse, which was chased away by the automobile, into the city and notably into this historic building that was built for it,” explained Marion Larochette, who directs equestrian activities for the company.
Organizers are still considering temporary alternative sites when the Grand Palais undergoes renovations, scheduled at the end of 2020, but plans are to keep the event at the site over the long-term.
The three-day event also serves to reach a broader audience for the luxury firm, which set up workshop and saddle displays on the site. In addition to the competition, other shows included one from Bartabas, a French horse trainer known for introducing the equestrian world to a broader audience with acrobatic performances. Hermès also created a horseshoe-throwing app called H-pitchhh, fitting the label’s annual “Let’s Play” theme this year — reflecting the growing use of apps by luxury goods labels as a means to reinforce brand recognition beyond their customer base.
Hermès saddles are made at workshops in the company’s chic Faubourg-Saint-Honoré address in central Paris. Starting at around 4,500 euros, they form the heart of the equestrian division at the company, part of the leather goods activity. The most popular models fall in the 6,500 euro range, according to Larochette.
The former L’Oréal executive uses the Hermès’ Cavale saddle herself. She oversees all aspects of the business, from creating products, ensuring their production to their sale.
The most important markets are Europe, the U.S., Japan, China and Brazil. The firm has a longstanding relationship with Brazilian equestrian star Nelson Pessoa. His son Rodrigo Pessoa won a gold medal in the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004, using a Brasilia Hermès saddle; father and son had participated in designing the saddle with Hermes.
Another well-known jumping saddle was developed with U.S. Olympic equestrian Bill Steinkraus, and carries his name.
In China, growth of the market is “very dynamic” said Larochette, who noted a surge in interest in equestrian sports in the country in the past decade.
“It’s quite astounding, in a very short time period, they managed to put into place pretty impressive infrastructure,” Larochette explained, noting the country was good at bringing in outside knowhow, such as coaching and veterinary expertise.
Hermès chief executive officer Axel Dumas waxed philosophical, referring to the celebrated physicist Stephen Hawking when kicking off the event.
“He probed eternity, movement, the infinitely large. At Hermès, movement, eternity and infinitely large — that’s the horse. Without the horse, Hermès would never have existed,” said Dumas.